The Oklahoma City Thunder’s season ended last night but really it ended when Russell Westbrook was announced to be out for the playoffs. You can even make the case that it was over before it started when the Thunder traded James Harden but we won’t go there now.
After making it to the NBA Finals last year, the bar has been set for success for this franchise. You either win a championship or the season was an underachievement. That is fair.
The Thunder and Scott Brooks were exposed in this series. They just don’t have an offensive system whatsoever. I know this isn’t a new development but it never seemed to be so bad when the Thunder had Westbrook and Kevin Durant on the floor. Thunder fans probably even convinced themselves that what OKC was running on offense was fine.
Well, it’s not fine. Not at all.
Just about every other playoff team could have dealt with their second-best player going down better than the Thunder. What it comes down to is Brooks designed his offense to rely way too much on Westbrook creating things from nothing. Take Westbrook away and we got to see the ugliest offense in the league.
The Thunder improved defensively this season and ultimately that was not the reason for their downfall. But again without Westbrook, they would be exposed. Serge Ibaka cannot guard a great post-up player one-on-one on the block. Luckily for Serge, there are only a handful in the league but two of them were on Memphis.
Kendrick Perkins looks washed up. Even in a series where he should have been somewhat productive, he was awful. There is no place for him on this team anymore. He can’t help with anything. He needs to get amnestied, there is no way to rationalize not doing this.
Kevin Martin’s contract is up and while he has said he will take less money to stay in OKC, there’s pretty much no reason for the Thunder to want him anymore. Thanks for the season Martin.
One of the great things about watching the Thunder is that on any given night, Durant or Westbrook could go off, scoring 40 points or something crazy. That’s entertaining but won’t get them any closer to a championship. Look at what LeBron is averaging in Miami in these playoffs. He doesn’t have to produce as much so he can be more efficient and get his teammates, who are able, involved.
The Thunder aren’t winning a title until they can mirror this on their end. I loved as much as anyone watching Durant average 35-10-6 and shoot over 50 percent from the field. But that’s not what the Thunder need if they want to win a championship.
It will be up to the role players developing and Sam Presti finding more pieces to put around these guys before they are ready to make it back to the NBA Finals.
Reggie Jackson gave us a glimpse of what he can do. He will be a very solid player coming off the bench for the Thunder in the future. He got incredibly better from his rookie season and I don’t think there is any reason to expect anything different for next year.
Considering what Jackson did, there is hope that Jeremy Lamb and Perry Jones, who barely played at all this season just like Jackson last year, could make the same kind of jumps.
The Thunder are no longer a Big 3 model team. They have a Big 2 and will need to surround those two with a minimum of six players who can produce at a high level. Serge Ibaka, Nick Collison, Thabo Sefolosha and Reggie Jackson are four of those guys. The Thunder need to find at least two more.
OKC holds the Raptors’ first round draft pick this year which is projected to be the 12th overall pick. They also have their own first rounder, Charlotte’s second rounder and Dallas’ future first round pick. The Thunder can be major players at the draft. They’ve proven in the past to make great selections and need to do so once more.
This year was ultimately a disappointment, but only because of what the Thunder have been able to accomplish so quickly in the past few years. The end result made sense given the circumstances and the Thunder will have to live with it.
We know we can count on Durant and Westbrook to work as hard as any player in the league this offseason. They will get a little more rest this summer with a shorter season and no Olympics. They will come back stronger next year and so will the Thunder. How many other teams are guaranteed this?